Canoeing Halfmoon Landing (Part IV)

Back under the trees, leaves crunched under our feet. We’d walked for ten minutes and stood upon the ridge, looking down on the channel we’d canoed up. The canoe was some distance up the channel from us. Larry sat down again to take in and enjoy the beauty of the trees and water. I took a few photos and then sat down beside him, our feet on the decline. The hill rolled down before us. The woods marched down the slope toward the water, at its edge in some places. The trees were of various kind and size. Some, though tall, were very thin, like twigs stuck in the ground. Beyond the channel was the narrow, tree covered peninsula. Patches of pale blue lake and the bluffs in the distance, could be see through tree branches.

“This is a beautiful stand of trees.” He paused a moment. “Just beautiful, isn’t it?” asked Larry.

“Yeah!” I replied, awed by the view. I could feel stress and worry seeping out of my body and feel relaxation and rest spread through every part of my body. It wasn’t just that the trees were lovely, the water beautiful, and the bluffs grand, it was all these things together that left us wonderstruck, filled with a desire, a need to sit down and linger, to revel in it, to soak in its awe-inspiring beauty. It was so quiet too. I could have stayed there for hours.

Larry enjoyed it as much as I did. “How many people between here and Winona, do you think, are just sitting over the river and taking in its beauty?”

“Probably just you and me. If there is anyone out sitting, they’re hunting and not really thinking about the beauty. Very few people just sit and take in the beauty. Which is too bad, between here and Winona is really beautiful. Just sit at the top of John Latsch and take in the beauty.” I replied.

“Yeah, it is beautiful.” We sat there for thirty four minutes enjoying the view. Larry threw a stick down the hill again and again for Hank to chase, hoping to wear him out. After awhile, Larry decided it was time to keep moving.

Looking down the hill, Larry said, “Instead of plunging straight down the hill from here, let’s walk across the ridge and then go down.”

We stood up; I stepped aside to let Larry lead the way. We walked around a big oak tree and pushed past brambles trying to trip us up. A dead oak tree lay on its side; it seemed to have tipped at the roots ripping them out of the ground as it fell. By way of explanation Larry said, “An oak wilt.” We walked around its roots, as we did I paused to observe them – they shot out from the trunk radially, not quite a circle, each one was broken. A few feet away we walked in to a tangle of branches and stepped on to a dead tree trunk. Larry offered his hand to help me jump down. Once through that tangled mess which tried to trip us both, I paused to admire a dead oak tree that still stood. Then down the hill, avoiding tree branches and still pushing through brambles, thankful for the layer of clothes protecting legs and arms against the thorns. Hank raced down the hill ahead of us. We left the prairie plants and oak trees behind us on top of the hill. A floodplain ecosystem took over, a forest that doesn’t mind getting its feet wet. Stepping over fallen branches and fallen trees, we made our way back to the green, lush grass covered bank, studded by trees.

Larry stepped into the canoe, walked back to the stern and took his seat. “Hank, get in.” He had to tell Hank a couple of times before he leaped into the canoe. Once Larry and Hank were situated, it was my turn. I pushed the canoe off, Larry held on to the tree, then I stepped in and sat down. With my paddle on the right side of the canoe, I pushed the blade against the canoe, shoving out and to our left. Larry helped push it and turn it so we were going back downstream the way we came. Larry took over the paddling. I set down my paddle and took up my camera. It was such a beautiful place, with the trees on the bank and some reaching out over the water.

“Those are really nice oysters. On your left.” Larry commented as we passed a tree with mushroom stairs going up its trunk.

“Yeah, they are nice.” I replied. I continued to enjoy and take in the dead snags in the water, the trees on the banks and hills, and the russet covered hill blanketed by oak leaves.

Going back was a totally different experience; though we followed along the same way and saw the same things, they appeared different. As we left the small side channel, the boat I saw earlier was in front of us, with the small island of trees and vegetation between us. Then Larry turned the canoe slowly to our left as we continued back along the way we came. We passed the snag that appeared like bone or perhaps a caribou antler, a clump of grass growing around it. With the odd shape of Halfmoon Lake, I thought when Larry paddled the canoe to the side of an “island” that we were going a new route but when I saw that snag I realized it was the same route.

Within a few minutes of leaving the smaller channel, we could see the big beaver lodge and drew near to it. The lodge was so fascinating, a masterpiece to be marveled at. I am awestruck by the abilities of beavers. A pile of branches seemingly at random actually placed strategically and held together with mud. Willow trees looked to be growing out of it, around three sides of it. Grass and reeds were growing near the bottom of it by the water. A fresh mud slide on the side, traversing it from top to bottom, was the beaver’s path from the water to the top for making repairs. It was the slide that intrigued me, for it spoke of recent beaver activity.

As I was marveling at the lodge, and taking a photo, Larry said, “There’s a mink on the house. Do you see it?”

Scanning the lodge, it took only a moment for me to spot the brown object among the green plants. “I see it!” I replied in an excited but hushed tone.

“I wonder if it’s the same one.”

“That’d be interesting.” As we drew a little closer, I was able to get a good look at it with the aid of my long camera lens. I was thrilled to have this chance to look at the amazing creature. The mink was a beautiful shade of brown, actually several shades of brown; cat like in shape; brown nose with whiskers; little bear-like ears; small, round black eyes; round head; a white chin –  just adorable. It looked so soft, and indeed it is; the desirability of its fur meant it was exploited by humans. The creature was alert, watching us, caught between alarm and curiosity – studying us. For a moment, it was just us, gazing upon each other, a connection formed. How can I describe such feelings? Elated. An energy passed between us, I was walking in the clouds. As we drew just a little closer, it ducked its head down so that part of its face was hidden behind the grass, but it still watched us. Then the spell was broken. It ducked beneath a log, and yet it wasn’t completely over. The mink was still weighing us, it came back out, nose in the air, chin patch easier to see, ears alert, taking one final assessment. And then back under the log it went, this time it didn’t come back out. Though it would have been nice to watch it longer and get even closer to it, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, I wouldn’t want it to become habituated to people and trust people because others may cause it harm – better for it to remain timid and elusive, and alive and wild.

“It might pop up again somewhere else,” said Larry.

We continued on, going around the beaver’s cache of sticks. “This is fresh.” I said seeing ends recently chewed by beavers.

“Yep,” replied Larry.

The tree with the large eagle nest was before us. Lovely cattails on our left, which I admired again as we passed them. A tree ahead stretched out high above the water. “There’s a kingfisher.” I pointed to the proud bird sitting on a branch.

“Yep.”

We heard the loud whine and wail of a motor boat, breaking our peace. We saw it head down one of the side channels by the other beaver lodge, possibly going to the main channel of the Mississippi River. “A hideous noise.” Larry said in disgust.

“Yeah,” I agreed.

We’d come again to the magnificent willow standing on the bank that creates a bend in the “lake”. The willow tree seemed to be calling to me; I desired to climb in its branches and sit for a long while and get to know each other and feel its healing touch. It was grandparent-like. As we were rounding the bend and beneath its majestic limbs, I said, “I really like willow trees; they have a lot of character.”

Larry replied, “That one sure has a lot of character.” It sure did; spunky but not obnoxiously so, with a great sense of humor, and very loving. I could feel it without touching its powerful limbs. I kept my eye on it until we were completely past it.

We were on the final stretch, past the beaver lodge on the bank, the big lodge across the way, the wall of cattails with the high water mark, along the tree covered bank, past a snag in the water, drawing closer and closer to the landing. Past the group of maple trees still holding on to their leaves, past the small basswood tree getting its feet wet. Then Larry landed the canoe. I stepped out and pulled it further on land. Larry said that was good, walked to the front of the canoe and stepped out. Hank leaped out. We picked the canoe up and carried it to the truck and loaded it. We left Halfmoon landing, drove back along the prairie road, back to daily life.

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Canoeing Halfmoon Lake (Part III)

I continued to enjoy the stately snags as we passed them; one small one with thin limbs was bleached white like bone with such contrast from its surroundings that it really caught my eye. As the vegetation on our right cleared, I could see the water stretched far to the right, northwest, and far back behind the island to the north, like another small lake. A thick forest of trees stood on the edge of the northwest bank, stretching westward and northward as far as we could see and southward, climbing the ridge. Large patches of cattails grew here and there along the bank. I desired to explore every nook and cranny of Halfmoon Lake. On the south end of this small lake, the bank came to a point dipping southward, which was actually a peninsula because just on the other side of this narrow point was a narrow channel of water between the point and tree studded hill. An island separated the water flowing toward the boat – still covered in bright green grass; we were parallel to it as we passed by to the right of it, nearing the tree studded hill, flashing with brilliant colors. Into this little channel Larry steered the canoe. It was canopied by trees – I loved this beautiful, even more secluded place. On the hill, downed trees seemed to be sliding into the water, branches sticking up every which way out of the water. The channel widened considerably once we were in it, trees withdrew a little bit from the grassy banks. As always, I marveled at the almost naked trees reflected on the water’s surface. I reveled in a willow tree kneeling at the water’s edge, stretching its graceful limbs over it without touching it or dipping a finger in to it. The channel again narrowed and turned a bit on the left (like we’d been in a pond with a stream flowing into it in the west, left, corner); up this “stream” we went. Lovely, thin trees leaned over the water on both sides, some stretching far out over it.

“Look at the nice oysters on that tree,” observed Larry. “I didn’t bring a bag,” he mused almost to himself.

At a tree stretching out over the water, Larry turned the canoe so we were alongside it and pushed the canoe into the bank. “Ok, we can get out here. Hank, you can get out.” Hank eagerly jumped out of the canoe and leapt on to the bank and began trotting back and forth, exploring with his nose. I stepped out of the canoe, mindful of where I stepped to avoid getting my feet wet. I pulled the canoe further on to the bank to secure it. After Larry stepped out he walked back down the channel to look at the oyster mushrooms. I followed a little bit taking in the trees. Larry stopped me with, “We’re going to go up the hill, Bethany.” So I didn’t keep following but stopped and waited for Larry. I took in the hill we were going to climb, it was quite steep. Who knew how many fallen sticks the thick leaf litter concealed from view.  A fallen tree here and there. Long grass covering the bank didn’t make it very far up the hill. Larry joined me and we began the climb. Walking around trees, ducking under branches, scooting past brambles, pushing back limbs, feet slipping a little bit, we steadily made our way up the hill. I was short of breath and breathing heavily before we reached the top of the hill. The trees thickened at the top, mostly oak trees of various size, some were nothing more than saplings. We had to continue ducking and pushing our way through the oaks until they abruptly stopped.

“Here’s the prairie,” remarked Larry. We’d gone from a lake to a flood plain forest that changed into an oak forest as it climbed and crested the hill which then gave way to a rolling prairie in only four minutes of walking. It was remarkable. Sitting in the canoe in the water, looking ahead to the tree covered hill there was no indication, no hint that beyond that hill were many acres of rolling prairie – what a stunning surprise if one didn’t know the prairie was there. Random, lone cedar trees rose up on the prairie here and there. All the way around the edge of the prairie oak trees encroached, hoping to have the opportunity to turn the prairie into an oak savanna and then eventually into an oak forest – exactly what Larry and other conservationists trying to protect and restore the prairie on these sand dunes want to prevent from happening.

The prairie was about as colorful as its neighboring woodlands, though not as bright; swaths of pale green, dark orange flames, soft gray, sandy white/brown of the dying prairie plants; beautiful in its own unique way. As we stepped out on to the prairie, going a little toward our left, I enjoyed studying a couple prairie plants in turn. One orange and fluid, like dancing flames. One with long, skinny, wood stems that were red orange had a shrub like appearance. Oblong leaves, almost in star like formation, of a mint close to the ground were still green. Wispy thin stems, brown bowed and bent prairie grasses going dormant. I’d have to almost run to catch up with Larry. We were staying on the fringes of the prairie.

“White pines were removed but there were a few that dropped enough seed when they were mature, so there are a few small ones.” We paused by a little white pine tree while Larry explained. “Like this one here.” The little conifer tree seemed a bit out of place especially with its dark green needles. “Nice Christmas tree isn’t it?” asked Larry.

“Yeah,” I admired the tree, though it was out of place.

“Be a long ways to carry it out though.” Larry voiced what I had also been thinking.

We continued walking. Hank ran ahead, finding sticks he hoped Larry would throw. – If he wasn’t carting a stick around, he had his nose to the ground sniffing everything. His nonstop energy never ceases to amaze and at times amuses us. We came along a bare spot – I am still awed that the soil here is completely sand, not sandy loam but sand, like on a beach. An almost perfectly round hole in the sand caught my attention, perhaps it belonged to a small rodent. Larry came to look at the hole but didn’t linger, again I had to walk fast to keep up with him. There were tufts of grass breaking up the bare patches but the sand was still quite visible. A dead cedar tree lay on the ground – just the trunk and bare branches sticking out from it at odd angles, it was only a skeleton of the former tree but oh, ever so lovely, something about its shape, texture, and contrast intrigued me. The little bluestem also caught my attention, who knew grass could be so beautiful, amber and elegant stems contrasting nicely with fuzzy white seed heads on the tip. Another branch lying on the ground looked like an antler after the felt is all rubbed off. The grasses and other plants filled in, covering the sand again.

“Remove these oaks – needs to be burned with enough frequency. There’s not enough grass [growing under and around them] for it to burn hot enough. Have to remove them mechanically and treat the stumps. The map turtles come up that hill to nest, stop just beyond the tree line – great for predators (90% loss), so need to back up the tree line.”

I was excited to find a turkey feather as we walked along, laying upon a bed of oak leaves. A few paces away lay an old wooden fence post, pointed at one end, bearing witness to the farm that used to be here. We continued up and down dunes, and back up again.

On top of a dune, Larry halted and sat down. I took a few photos and then sat down to join him. Larry had chosen a spot to sit such that we could view the prairie. We were sitting next to a fascinating fungus, green tubules branching off every which way, topped with a bright red cap. I remarked to Larry, “I like the solider fungus.”

“The British soldiers, cute aren’t they?” Larry replied. Hank continued his crazy antics, wanting Larry to throw a stick for him and whining about it. Larry threw the stick a couple of times. Hank would sometimes have trouble finding the stick or get a little distracted, taking a few moments to return with the stick.

Looking out over the prairie, admiring it, Larry commented, “Think, when this stuff was seven, eight feet tall, walking through it when the wind was blowing – get seasick.”

“Yeah, it would have been unnerving walking through it when it was so tall, no landmarks.”

“Endless, you’d hope to go into a valley with trees or a river.” Larry paused and said, “Beautiful undulations, aren’t they?” referring to the roll of the dunes. I agreed. We lingered for a few moments longer. After sitting for sixteen minutes, Larry said, “well, time to keep moving,” with that he stood up and I followed suit. He called for Hank and we were on the move again. I had admired the various prairie plants while we had been resting.

Canoeing Halfmoon Lake (Part II)

On our right a tree leaned into the water, its crown buried beneath the surface. It had been cut by a beaver and was still resting somewhat on the chewed stump. Grass draped over the tree’s middle. Green grass encircled the stump. The tree behind it may have welcomed the extra space. The standing tree still held on to a considerable amount of its leaves. As we glided past the beaver lodge I marveled at its size. Again though, I looked to the bank on our right – another beaver lodge, this one built on the bank and looking even more like just another pile of sticks falling into the water. The cozy hole the beavers actually live in is more than likely inside the bank. A tree loomed up out of the water beside it. The “lake” went around a bend ahead of us. Across the way, sat an eagle’s nest braced among thick branches of a tall tree. The tree’s trunk wasn’t straight, but rather leaned to one side, giving the appearance it was leaning due to the great weight of the nest. It grew on the edge of a forest, covering an island. A few oak trees clung to the remainder of their russet leaves behind it. Just beyond the mound that the beaver lodge stood against was another channel splitting off from the main body, grassy islands on either side and in the middle, the channel split to the right and a very narrow one going to the left. Ahead of it was trees all the way across – only the oak trees had some leaves remaining. There was a blue sign with a canoe marking a state canoe trail. Of course, I wanted to go exploring down that channel too but it wasn’t our course for the day. Past the channel the bank was covered with green grass, trees behind, cattails, and more signs.

On our right, a glorious willow tree stood upon the bank where the “lake” went around a bend. That willow spoke to my heart – I just wanted to climb up on to one of its branches and nestle against it. I loved that tree and desired very much to spend time with it, get to know it. It wasn’t just its beauty and loveliness though there was that too, but its character. What wisdom and stories would it impart if it could speak? It reached out a large limb over the water, an arm extended, hand held out over the water, fingers stretched trying to touch it, one branch succeed in stirring the water with dead vegetation clinging and wrapped around its tip. I was so focused on the eagle’s nest and fantastic willow tree I almost missed the great blue heron that had been in the water in the bend just beyond the willow tree. It burst out of the water with a cry and flew across the way – its voice a reminder of the wild, a stirring in my heart that there is still such a thing as wild. Though we only got a glimpse of it, I was elated at the sighting, cheered just to know it was here. On the bank across the water were clumps of young trees still clothed with leaves, smudges of green and yellow from an impressionist’s brush. Larry gracefully paddled the canoe into the bend. We were closer to the eagle’s nest; built with sticks and mud, even bigger than it appeared from our position; it was a thing of wonder, almost mystical. If we returned here in March we’d probably see at least one large, majestic bird sitting in it – white head feathers a striking contrast to the still barren trees. Again so much to look at, my eyes were drawn to the cattails on our right. The brown, cylindrical seed head had exploded into a light brown white fluffy cotton ball on all of the cattail plants. Some long green grass grew among the cattails.

Behind the wall of cattails was another small lake almost completely cut off by vegetation from the “lake” we were in – from the parking lot there is a small foot path through the trees to view it, Larry and I saw ducks there in the spring. We glided along, enjoying the refreshing beauty around us; as always being on the water was incredibly relaxing.

The channel curved lazily to the left again. The water reflected the trees by broad brush strokes of color. Situated up against the right bank ahead, rose a large beaver lodge. My excitement from spotting it was like that of a child, filled with awe and thrilled that beavers were inside at this very moment. Small trees set ablaze like a climbing fire, rose up on the bank behind the lodge. Most of the trees in the woodlands behind and ahead of the lodge were still dressed in their autumn finery – orange, russet, and yellow green. However, the trees on the left bank had shed their autumn clothes and now stood naked, each individual branch now clearly seen. The grass was still green though the other plants growing along the water’s edge had turned brown. Only a few leaves hung on here and there. There were some much smaller trees still holding on to their leaves, fading from green to yellow.

As we came up alongside the beaver lodge, I noted, “This is lived in.”

“Yeah, a good stock pile of food. Rearranged by the high water,” Larry replied. There were several branches that had been freshly gnawed from trees and placed in the food cache and even some of the branches on top of the lodge had been freshly gnawed. I wish we would have seen even one of the busy workers.There were probably hundreds of little trees growing on the bank behind the lodge – spindly little things, hardly more than sticks in the ground covered with leaves. They crowded the left bank too and continued further down the channel a ways on both sides. “Are those young willows?”

“Yeah, they’re clones from the ones behind.”

I enjoyed the trees on either side of the channel making it feel closed off, a place of solitude. The cattails along the edge of the water, tips turning dark brown were lovely. I marveled at the elegant snags sticking up out of the water, smoothed by the water’s caress. There were so many side channels and “lakes” going off here and there, I wanted to explore them all. Alongside some of the channels were little blue diamond signs with a canoe on them marking a state canoe trail. I was amazed to see an old barbed wire fence in this wetland. A narrow channel split off just slightly to our left winding around mounds of vegetation. Ahead, some distance away, I could see two house boats. From that vantage point they looked random, stranded in the back water in the middle of nowhere – a source of curiosity that could inspire a fun tale. I could see the outline of the bluffs in the distance.

Larry smoothly turned the canoe to our right. Another small channel cut its way through small islands of vegetation on our left. Lovely snags lay up against the cattails and rushes on either side of the channel. Looming behind and a little to the right rose a tree covered hill. As we completed the turn, the hill was directly before us, studded predominately with oak tree which still held on to their orange and russet leaves, although the hillside was carpeted with leaves. Another channel followed along the bank going left and right. A partly submerged pile of branches, perhaps escapees from the beaver cache, and a partial limb of a completely submerged snag divided the water ahead of us. Larry glided the canoe past on the right. It was just so quiet and excluded and incredibly beautiful.

The vegetation on the right opened up to another large pond. I was taking in the vegetation when suddenly I noticed a little critter sitting there. Its dark brown coat blended in with the brown cattails. “Look!”

“Yeah.” The sleek, furry critter skittered across the decaying vegetation, elongate, belly slithering against the surface as it slinked away. Crawling on its belly across the decaying vegetation, then it smoothly transitioned to swimming in the open water without dropping in or making a splash. I watched it swim away, going towards the island we’d just past, head and back above the water. It swam into the morass of cattails and disappeared without a sound, an incredibly stealthy animal. “Was that a mink?”

“Yeah, that was a mink.” Larry had stopped paddling so we could observe the mink. In less than a minute from spotting the mink and watching it disappear, we were on the move again.

“It didn’t seem very scared.”

Larry replied, “I think we took it by surprise.”

Canoeing Halfmoon Lake (Part I)

October 25, 2016

Larry was already to go, other than grabbing another cup of coffee, when I got there so we didn’t waste any time getting on our way. Of course, Hank came with us. While we were driving along highway 84, I took in the prairie. The large area of little blue stem, just before Pritchard’s road, was especially eye-catching, now an attractive dark whisky color. “It’s so beautiful!”

“It’s even more beautiful after a light snow and low angle sun light filtering through it,” Larry explained. Hank was whining a bit as we drove along, so Larry let him drape his paws between the front seats with his head snuggling Larry’s arm. I continued to take in the rolling prairie as we drove along.

We turned off highway 84 on to the West Newton road. Down the road, we left the prairie and entered a floodplain forest. When we turned into Halfmoon Lake Landing and went down the drive to the canoe launch, Hank perked up. He jumped back on to the back seat and stood at point looking out the window, really excited.

“You’re so excited, Hank.” I said.

Larry responded for Hank, “I know this place. I like this place; I have fun here!” Hank was indeed eager. Larry backed the truck in towards the landing – nothing more than a worn trail to the water’s edge. When allowed, Hank jumped out of the truck and ran around. Larry climbed into the bed of the truck to unfasten the canoe. Then I grabbed the end of the canoe and slowly walked with it until it was far enough out so that Larry could set the other end on the ground using the rope. He jumped out of the bed of the truck and picked up the other end of it; together we carried it the twelve or so feet to the water’s edge and set it down in the grass. Then Larry moved the truck. The banks of Halfmoon Lake are lined with trees and covered in grass – a diverse plant life. While Larry moved the truck, I took in the beauty of Halfmoon – enclosed and secluded, quiet and peaceful – the naked trees reflecting in the water, along with the patches of blue sky and clouds. Water and trees and quiet, my heart was at home.

Larry returned and we slid the canoe into the water. Larry held the canoe in place, close to the bank so that I could step in. Once I was in and seated it was Hank’s turn to get in. As always he wanted to swim instead of sitting in the canoe. “Hank, kennel,” Larry commanded a couple of times before Hank obeyed and jumped into his spot in the middle of the canoe. It felt so great to be on the water again, I could just feel my body relaxing. I was ready for another adventure. Larry slid the long pole into the bottom of the canoe and handed a paddle to me, “Here’s your blade.” Then he was just about ready to step in the canoe himself when he said, “I forgot the life jackets. Better grab those in case the warden’s out.” Before going back to the truck he commanded, “Hank, stay there. Stay, Hank.” Larry walked back up the short trail to the parking area. Hank didn’t stay – with a forceful leap that launched the canoe out into the water several feet from the bank, he ran after Larry, leaving me a drift. Thankfully, I had a paddle and there wasn’t a current or breeze. Even so, it still required some effort to pull the canoe back to the bank and position it such that the stern was close enough for Larry to grab a hold of without having to step into the water. Of course, I enjoyed the whole thing, steering and paddling the canoe is exhilarating and it was so exciting to be able to successfully, perhaps not quite as gracefully as Larry, maneuver a big canoe all by myself! (This of course planted the thought of getting my own, smaller canoe that I could load and unload and carry all by myself; though it would never replace a canoe outing with Larry.) I managed to get the canoe back to the bank around the same time Larry returned, light heartedly scolding Hank, “Hank, that’s not what you were suppose to do – pushing Bethany out in the water.” He tossed the life jackets into the middle of the canoe and grabbed on to the canoe. He instructed Hank to get in and then stepped in himself. Then Larry shoved us off, paddling us slowly down the lake. My paddling contributions were done for the day – it was easy paddling so Larry didn’t need the help and so that I was free to take photos as we glided along.

I was extra thrilled about this canoe outing because we were exploring new territory for me and unlike McCarthy, Goose Lake and the Weaver Bottoms, Halfmoon Lake felt more enclosed, not so vast, by its higher banks lined with trees, there wasn’t an empty space beyond those trees, they were like a wall around us – this gave it a more secluded and quiet, peaceful feeling. (I do like the other three places too and so very thankful for the wildlife I’ve seen and photographed in them, however, I think Halfmoon has become my spot, my special place.) As we started off Larry explained, “The water level will start to go down soon.” There was a mass of cattail plants, almost completely yellow brown now with a line of green across them, ahead to our left along the bank. Again, Larry explained, “You can see where the water level had been for a long time on the cattails.” I peered at the cattails more intently, and sure enough, there was a dark line around each stalk (a continuous line across the whole lot) perhaps a foot (hard to gauge from this distance) above the current water level. I was a bit amazed the water had been that much higher – but then again it wasn’t really surprising given all the rain we had that ran off the land into bodies of water. A tree growing on the very edge of a bank had very intriguing roots, reminding me of the tentacles of Ursula, the sea witch from Disney’s The Little Mermaid; however they weren’t sinister in the least. Brown leaves pillowed the ground behind the tree and floated on the water’s surface in front of the tree – bringing to mind a scene from the classic Winnie the Pooh movie; good storytellers draw on experience and observation. The water rippled gently, blurring and distorting the mirrored images of the tree and the vine hanging on to it. The roots that had been under the water were blackened. A green fungus grew in patches on the base of the tree, even going down on to the roots.

With so much to take in and observe my eyes again shifted to our left, back towards the cattails. Trees looming up behind them were now completely nude, having already dropped all of their leaves. Now each branch is exposed and one can see the form of the tree, a stately beauty and air about them. The cattails seem to come almost to a point, with a handful marching out a little further than the others, a small gap between them. A channel branches off, perpendicular to the “main lake” we were on, the cattail’s point in about a right angle. The channel is narrow. Across the water from the cattails is a good sized beaver lodge, a heaping pile of sticks, strategically placed, packed with mud to hold it together in a dome- like structure. A beaver lodge is always a source of excitement and wonder for me! I am awed by its builders and admire their ingenuity. Wonderstruck by beavers’, merely large rodents, ability to alter a habitat; there is so much diversity and life in beaver ponds and meadows.

Larry observed, “That house looks lived in.” I would have loved to see one of its residents. The bank rose up above the lodge into a plant covered mound – still yellow green. My attention was pulled to the water surface near the cattails, the water rippled outward in rings – something had broken above the water’s surface, and then quickly dropped back down. We observed several of these disturbances in the water. “Something just came up to the surface over there,” I said.

Larry replied, “Fish jumping. There’s another one among the cattails.” As we were passing the side channel, I heard the water erupt as a fish jumped high and smacked the water as it fell back beneath the water’s surface – of course it happened so fast I was unable to see it.

October Canoeing

October 18, 2016

Larry and I put the canoe in about 8:30 am. We brought Hank with us again. Though it was about forty five degrees when we started it didn’t feel all that chilly, but the sky was clear, a beautiful sunny day, and only a very slight whisper of a breeze. It was an absolutely perfect day – and I was thrilled to be starting this beautiful day out with a canoeing outing with Larry. We put in at the bridge, heading up McCarthy again. We followed our previous course from a couple of weeks ago.

My eyes were immediately drawn to the bluff straight ahead of the canoe launch. Last time we were out it was still mostly green – there was no longer much green left, a lot of orange and russets – but what really caught my eye was a clump of fiery orange yellow trees setting the bottom of the bluff ablaze. The trees before me had progressed considerably, what had just barely started to have a tinge of yellow green was fully yellow, and a couple of trees that still had their summer green last time had completely lost all of their leaves, the change was incredible. The vegetation around the trees and in the water had still been mostly green with only a hint of brown but now was completely yellow brown. The one island of trees had only one tree left with its leaves.

“Is the water level higher?” I asked.

“I’m not sure of it is or if it just looks that way because the vegetation has just senesced so much.”

“It just looks different somehow.”

“Yeah, it does.”

The sun lit the marsh so beautifully and perfectly, everything had a warm, golden glow. The now naked trees rising up out of the marsh were so stately and elegant. The moon was still visible in the western sky. My eyes were again drawn to the fiery trees on the bluff, “Don’t those big tooth aspen stand out?” Larry asked.

“Yes. I was wondering if they were aspen.” They were so beautiful; the sun hitting them had a lovely affect.

The channel, meandering lazily through the wild rice became narrower. Although it had senesced considerably, the wild rice was still grand. The morning light was just perfect, I was awestruck by it, how it illuminated the beauty of the marsh and nearby bluffs. Soon the wild rice gave way, the channel opened up again, becoming several times wider than it had been. We glided past the last “island” of trees where we’d seen the muskrat, I scanned the vegetation for any sign of a muskrat, but there was none. It’s amazing how much the vegetation had grown up and out, the morning when we saw the muskrat we were very close to the “bank” of the island now we had to go much further out. Moving along at a good pace, we soon came upon the large yellow water lily patch which looked even sadder than before and yet in the amazing lighting it looked brilliant. Most of the leaves had dried and shriveled up. The stems were bent and twisted, most curled under at the tip. Though rapidly decaying, it retained an element of loveliness perhaps it partly had to do with the low angle sunlight, casting shadows creating a beautiful abstract painting. We plunged into the lily patch. At some point in the lily patch, Larry switched to the pole. I continued to revel in the beauty of the lilies and the colorful trees on the bluff. A red wing black bird perched on the same scrawny little tree, more like a twig in diameter than a tree, that I’d seen a red wing black bird perched on last time. I noticed more red wing black birds this time then I had last time – where had they been hiding? They chattered considerably, however it seemed more subdued than it had even a month ago. Larry noted that there were still a lot of those fly-like insects around, but they too had become less. We continued gliding along at a pretty good pace; it didn’t take long to get to the other side of the lily patch. The wild rice plants again took over dominance – they continued to be a marvel too me.

The small channel curved tightly to our left, west, almost like half an “S” around an impenetrable wall of vegetation, and curved back to the right. Larry poled us through a tangle of fallen wild rice plants. We passed through some duckweed – a green film on top of the water’s surface. Then we were back into more open water; Larry switched the pole for the paddle. The wild rice-cattail morass to our left was very dense. The cattails still had a little bit of green. We were close to the tree-filled eastern bank, on our right. Larry thought he saw a muskrat swimming ahead of us, once I figured out where he was looking the creature disappeared under the water. Larry steered us to the location but we didn’t see it; Larry said, “The disappearing act.”After a moment’s pause to see if it would surface again, we continued on. A muskrat lodge was almost hidden in the wild rice and cattails. Larry again wondered at the seemingly lack of muskrats.

Suddenly we were hemmed in, the vegetation filled in the channel ahead of us. I thought, “Surely this is all the further we can go.” Larry stood up to get a better view of the marsh ahead of us. I was somewhat surprised when he didn’t turn us around but rather poled us forward through the wild rice plants. We were nearly enveloped by wild rice plants. We came to a slightly more open area; Larry continued on until we came to another wall of wild rice then halted. “Well I guess this is all the further we should go.” And so we sat, enjoying the relaxing quality of being on the water, and we took in the marsh. We went back and forth between chatting and sitting quietly. We sat there for about half an hour before Hank became really impatient to be on the move again, stepping up his whining. I saw a caterpillar like critter on a wild rice plant, Larry said, “It may be a remaining rice worm.”

Upon Hank’s insisting, Larry turned the canoe around and we headed back the way we came around the little peninsula with barren trees, along the “S” curve. I just loved those trees and the beauty of them being reflected in the water. As we were rounding the peninsula, a flock of trumpeter swans from the northeast flew by us, going southwest until they were almost to the bluff and then turned southeast. The beauty, majesty of the water, aquatic plants, bluffs, and blue sky was breathtaking – I was awestruck. I took in the stately, now nude trees standing up above the marsh on our right, west. We went back through the lily patch and from there changed our course to the other channel.

We were closer to the trees on our right side now – something about trees stirs something deep in my heart. I enjoyed passing by them. A few of these trees still retained some leaves but were working on undressing. We saw a glimpse of a pileated woodpecker – I would have loved to get a good photo but it was mostly hidden by twisting branches and flew away as we drew near. The channel curved lazily. I surveyed the vegetation at the water’s surface, mainly on our left, for any sign of a muskrat – but again there was nothing. The bridge was in view and we were drawing closer and closer to it. We were parallel to it as Larry paddled us to the landing. All too soon we had completed our outing – I have never quit canoeing because I am tired of it or ready to be done but rather because it is time to get on to other things. As we were leaving, Larry said, “If we can we should get out again next week, put in at Halfmoon and go up the backside of the prairie.”

September Canoeing

September 29, 2016

It was a beautiful autumn day, a little chilly, only forty five degrees around 8:00 am, and there was a slight breeze. It was about 8:12 am when Larry put the canoe in McCarthy Lake. With one hand he held the canoe steady, and offered the other to me to help me steady myself while I stepped into the canoe. Once I was settled in the seat in the bow, he handed a paddle to me, “In case you need it.” Then he pushed the canoe further into the water. “Get in, Hank.” Hank jumped in. Larry stepped in and sat down and pushed us off. We were heading up McCarthy Lake again – Larry wanted me to catch the change in the vegetation – witnessing the marsh go from bursting at the seams with life to that life dwindling until it appears to be barren of life. The trees had progressed more, their autumn colors deepening and more of them dressed in their autumn colors– a beautiful sight. Some trees had already shed their leaves completely.

I became more and more chilled the longer we were out but I didn’t mind too much – the beauty of the marsh in autumn was relaxing and refreshing. The chilling morning and heavily overcast sky did not diminish my enjoyment of being in a canoe on the marsh with someone who enjoyed it as much as I did. I was still reveling in the beauty of the trees reflected in the water. Larry glided the canoe effortlessly up the channel on the right (the “main” channel) following our previous course. The width and lay of the channel toward the beginning seemed slightly different from two weeks ago, but I may have been imagining it.

“The water clarity is better,” remarked Larry. I peered down in to the water, enjoying the strange but fantastic shapes of the aquatic vegetation below the water’s surface. A kingfisher flew across the marsh in front of us, cackling as it went, landing in a tree ahead and to the right of us. They are such awesome looking birds; their white neck tie very prominent, the feathers on the back of their head stick out a little, but not messy looking, rather like it was styled. Larry thought it amusing that they seemed to need to make noise to be able to fly. My heart was thrilled to see them flying about the marsh – there seemed to be less of them though.

Larry didn’t halt, we continued gliding, taking in everything as we glided past. The wild rice had senesced quite rapidly – very little of it was still green; it had turned brown. In many places it appeared black toward the bottom of the plant, at the water’s surface. The wild rice plants didn’t seem quite as tall, their presence and energy had diminished. The large flocks of black birds had moved on, none flew up as we passed through the small passages in the wild rice. Larry pointed out three teal that flew away and two lone mallards. I still admired the stately dead snags rising up out of the patches of wild rice – they have so much character about them – something about those lovely snags always stirs my heart, in an unexplainable way. The wild rice plants were wet, dripping water; when we passed close enough it slid across my face, it wasn’t a pleasant tickle, though it didn’t hurt. Sometimes I grabbed hold of a plant and held it away from my face as the canoe moved me past it. Beyond a bend, around some still towering wild rice plants, the channel went from a tiny stream to a wide, slow moving river. We glided past the island of trees where we’d seen the muskrat in May – we were further away from the trees, the vegetation had grown up thickly and far out into the channel, wild rice and cattails, the cattails had more green to them than the wild rice. We glided past some lily pads that lay flat on top of the water’s surface.

A little further along, we came to the large patch of yellow water lilies. The leaves drooped even more than they had two weeks ago, brown and shriveled, bent over, so sad looking. Very few leaves were still green, some almost appeared black. Larry glided the canoe forward into the lily patch. Myriads of insects (in the fly order) were buzzing around just above the water surface and on and among the lily plants. The look of the lily patch wasn’t the only thing that changed. It was so quiet, too quiet; there was no meowing of sora rails. “The rails must have migrated already,” observed Larry. Their absence could be felt. I was a little disappointed that they were gone. Most of the red wing black birds were gone too. I observed one male on top of a tall plant – his singing sounded so lonely. In the trees lining the bank ahead and northeast of us, Larry spotted a pileated woodpecker. I saw its shape as it was flying away. Larry exchanged the paddle for the pole at some point to pole us through the lily patch. We didn’t pause until we were on the other side of it. I took in the beautiful trees on the bank ahead and to the right of us. Larry pushed us through some wild rice – the open water available had shrunk. Larry paused, wondering if we should continue forward or turn back. He decided to keep going forward, there was more open water ahead. He poled us through thick vegetation where it seemed like there was hardly any water. Then suddenly there was water again. Cattails grew more abundantly among the wild rice here. The tips of some of the plants appeared almost blackish purple – varying the color scheme and thereby enhancing the beauty. Larry switched again, putting the pole back in the canoe and taking up the paddle again. We paddled around a bend, a jut in the bank, keeping near the east bank. Larry was saying we weren’t seeing much for muskrat activity – a lot less houses and no signs of them grazing the wild rice. Then he spotted what was probably one ahead of us swimming in the water, “That’s probably a muskrat up ahead of us,” even with some direction from Larry it took me a few moments to see the v-shape in the water. But then it must have noticed us and dived before I was really able to catch a glimpse of it. Larry paddled us to where it had disappeared and we paused there for a few moments – peering into the water and looking around us. “The disappearing act,” commented Larry after seeing no sign of it. He started to paddle the canoe forward again.

We didn’t get much further when the open water again began to shrink and the vegetation became very thick in front of us. “And I think this is all the further we should try to go, “Larry said. He stopped paddling – we sat there taking in the marsh. Hank was whining almost nonstop. We chatted about random things and also quietly sat in the canoe.

“I wish the highway noise wasn’t so loud,” said Larry.

“Yeah.” We talked about why it seemed louder today than it does some other days.

After a while, Larry turned the canoe around and we began making our way back. I admired the beauty of the trees reflected in the water on the jut of land we had to go around and the bluffs ahead cradling us and the marsh. Back into the lily patch Larry took us up close to the western wall of wild rice, on our right. There were small sparrows hopping about on the broken and bent, dried wild rice plants. “They’re such a cute little bird. “Let’s get close enough so you can see one,” said Larry. They were busy birds, not staying in one place very long so it was hard to do. We lingered there along the wild rice plants trying to get a look at the birds for a few minutes. Then we continued on through the lily patch. “I can’t tell if someone else was through here and made that path or if it was us,” wondered Larry. There seemed to be a pathway through the lily pads, we followed it. Not following our usual course through McCarthy anymore but going through a narrow opening in the wild rice near the island of trees to the other channel, which opened up more into an actual water channel. The water was deeper here. I continued to enjoy the lovely wild rice plants on both side of us, and the vegetation beneath the water surface. And of course, I loved the trees and marveled in their elegance. The channel curved ever so gently to our left. It was amazing how some trees were still as green as can be, others blazing orange or yellow, and yet others had already lost all their leaves. A kingfisher sat in a branch extending out, far above the water. I watched the awesome bird as we drew closer and closer – wondering just how close we could get before it would take off. And then with a call it flew off. Larry said, “Getting the motor started.” The channel curved a little more sharply left around that tree until it was going east instead of south. I scanned the vegetation on our left hoping to see a muskrat but there wasn’t one. Larry mentioned we should be seeing more signs of muskrats – though a lodge we passed seemed to have some fresh stuff added to it. We were back at the bridge and landed the canoe. As always I got out first and pulled it a little on to the bank. While Larry was finishing up securing the canoe in the back of the truck, I pointed to a tree far off in the distance, “is there something in that tree?” Larry got his binoculars out and I looked through the long lens of my camera, at about the same time we said, “It’s a bald eagle.” With that we got into the truck.

Canoeing with Sora Rails (Part III)

My attention shifted. Behind the rail and several feet away stood another sora rail, facing the other way. This one appeared more slender and sleek and its face wasn’t as dark. The sun hit it just right making its breast, chest, neck, and cheek glow an odd pinkish orange. Its reflection also mirrored in the water. What was it standing on? It turned around and walked in the direction of the other one, which was still minding its own business perched where it had been, and then changed its mind again turning around and heading back the other direction. With the sunlight, it was a beautiful painting in motion. It walked away a little bit but then turned around again, and circled back, changed its mind yet again, turned and walked away. Then the first one followed it. They squabbled a little – seemed silly to be fighting over lily pads with there being so many. Then it seemed like they changed places. A third one entered on to the scene, the first one walked toward it and they also squabbled. It was amusing to watch. We had watched the birds for over ten minutes before Larry turned the canoe around to start making our way back. Hank whined throughout. Larry said, “Isn’t it funny how they fight? – It’s my pad.”

Larry pushed the canoe back through the huge lily patch. I noticed several more sora rails, all near the wild rice plants along the edges. Every time Hank whined, Larry told him to hush. At one point, Larry stopped the canoe, grabbed the paddle and reversed the canoe, for a moment I was confused as to why. The long pole had gotten stuck, leaving Larry’s hands, so he backed up to get it. Larry then put it back in the canoe once he freed it from the vegetation and muck – he then went back to using the paddle. Soon we were through the vast lily patch.

We didn’t follow our previous course completely. Instead of passing on the east side of the island of trees – we glided through a small opening in the wild rice plants to go down the other channel. Flying up out of the water somewhere ahead of us was a marsh hawk, another name for northern harrier. When it came up out of the water it looked like it had something in its talons but it dropped it. I felt bad that we may have been the cause of it dropping its food. I was excited to get a better look at it though. Magnificent bird, I enjoyed watching it soar past. From what I could see of it, it was dark brown with a bright white patch just above its tail feathers with some white on the underside of its wings. Its head was turned our direction when it soared, some distance away and above us, past on our right. Was it looking at us?

Trees loomed up out of the marsh to our right. Some of the trees had already lost most of their leaves. I again marveled at the simplistic, yet elegant, beauty of the wild rice plants bordering the channel on either side. There was more water in this channel. As we glided along, Larry said, “This is a remnant of the Zumbro when it came through here.” (Which is probably part of the reason for it having more water.) Again, we saw a lot of red wing black birds decorating the trees above the wild rice plants, easily hundreds of them – all chattering. We continued to glide along lazily. A large flock of the black birds took off from the wild rice plants as we went by, wings pounding the air. Larry said, “If you were tucked behind a blind out here and spent the night, in the early morning hours they’d sound like thunder.”

The beauty of the marsh, especially with it poised, ready to launch into fall color, was so healing and refreshing. The dead snags mingled in with the alive and fully clothed trees, lovely, adding to the overall essence of the place. A pair of ducks flew off to our right along with the black birds; I wasn’t able to see what kind they were. The channel had begun to bend slowly to our left, taking us more and more southeast, once the bend was complete we were heading east; startling black birds the whole way, through the wild rice and trees. Cattails started to take over the scene, growing more abundant, especially along the south bank, on our right. – They still looked quite green. I just loved the trees standing tall above us on either side. As we were turning southeast, the bridge came into view. It had been hidden behind the bend. I always feel a little sad when the bridge comes back into view, and we’re heading toward it. Looking to my left, I saw something brown in the water, behind a curtain of wild rice plants – either a beaver or a muskrat but most likely a muskrat. It was just sitting there in the water, running its forepaws through its fur, grooming. My heart leaped. I turned very slightly to get a better look at it but with my movement, it spooked and dived beneath the water. “Was that a beaver or a muskrat?” I asked Larry.

“I don’t know. I didn’t see it, but it sounded like a muskrat. Did you see it?”

“Yeah, it was grooming.” Though it had disappeared so quickly, I was still thrilled to have seen it at all. As we neared the bridge, we startled a few more ducks – I believe they were teal. I started to put one of my camera lenses away to make it easier to step out of the canoe onto the bank but Larry stopped me by saying, “We’ll head downstream a little bit if you have time.”

“Ok, I have time.” So Larry expertly guided us under the bridge. While I was taking a picture of the pilings, Larry said, “Water marks from when the water was high for an extended amount of time.” I enjoyed the reflections of the trees in the water there too. The red wing black birds were hard at work harvesting the wild rice. I loved the willow tree leaning over the water. We went past it then turned around. Larry thought there was something in the tree so he got us really close to it, pushing the bow almost under the branches. But we weren’t able to see it. There were a whole bunch of whirly gig beetles spinning around on the water’s surface – Larry thought it would be fun to video them and have a sound track. We made our way back up the channel to the bridge and landed the canoe. Larry said, “We should try to get out again next week, things will start to senesce quickly.”

Canoeing with Sora Rails (Part II)

Trees grew up along the northeast bank, walling in the marsh – adding to our sense of solitude and peace. Wild rice grew thickly all around the lily patch, the only passage through was to the northwest. In many places, the coontail lying on its side poked above the water’s surface, creating a spiny texture. At some point, Larry exchanged the paddle for a really long pole, standing up in the canoe – poling us along. He explained, “This is how you go wild ricing.”He moved the pole from one side to the other going over and above the canoe (and my head) with it. We paused near the northwest edge of the lily patch where a few more wild rice plants grew, observing the marsh.

I spotted a bird to my right, “Is that a rail?”

Larry had been looking through the wild rice to a gray spot in the vegetation ahead, and replied, “No that’s a heron.” I pointed to my right, “But is that a rail?”

He said, “Yeah, that is a rail.”I was elated. Finally, I had a chance to see a sora rail, more than just a fleeting glimpse. Bigger than a robin, more roundish (less upright; compressed laterally). Though mostly brown it was a beautiful bird – speckled with black and white that set off the brown in a lovely contrast. The rows of tadpole shaped black spots streaming down its wings and back aid in camouflaging the rail. Between the black lines were lines of tiny white dots and streaks, an artist’s final touch to add contrast and dimension. Dark brown back and wing feathers fade into very light brown with white specks on its breast. Its side and belly were a mosaic of dark brown irregular splotches with white and black edgings. The bird’s chest and cheeks were a soft gray. Its chin looked to be black. It had a black diamond around its tarnished yellow beak, the black eye at the point of the diamond. A white streak crossed its brow and a dark brown cap with black spots covered the top of its head. Tail was erect almost like a fan but not spread out (like a quails), and looked to be dark brown with black edging; the underside of the tail a flashy white, like a white tail deer. The coloration and patterns of the rail’s feathers make the bird difficult to spot among the marsh vegetation at the water’s surface. I was thrilled this one wasn’t spooked by us so I could take a picture; another beautiful gift from God. The rail seemed too busy collecting food to pay us much mind.

Grateful and satisfied with finally seeing a rail, I turned my attention to the gray spot in the wild rice some distance ahead of us peering through the few wild rice plants directly before us. It was indeed a great blue heron sitting in the water with its grayish blue back to us. It was busy preening its feathers – with its wings wrapped around it, it looked very round. Its white head and neck seemed to glow in the morning light. Its back and wing feathers appeared stringy. Neck bent and head down, turned backward grooming its wings. We sat silently watching it, enthralled. I enjoy watching great blue herons – they’re so majestic. My heart lifts when I see them. Slowly, Larry began to creep the canoe forward. As we began going through the wild rice plants, a thin, almost invisible spider web that we broke through clung to me – always a strange feeling. I marveled that there could be spiders even out on the water. We inched along, our eyes glued to the blue heron. And then the heron noticed us and immediately took flight, appearing quite gangly with its long neck and legs, a spray of water falling off its feet. Larry remarked, “It must not have seen us coming at all that we scared it off.” I was a bit bummed it flew away, but I loved watching it in flight – such an impressive wing span. I watched it until it disappeared into the trees. Another wood duck was startled by us too, flying away. The wild rice ahead of us now seemed lonely and empty without the great blue heron.

Looking ahead to the northwest, Larry said, “It doesn’t look like there is much more water ahead of us.” So we sat there, again taking in the marsh.

“Rail to your right. Right.” I had trouble spotting it at first, and then there it was sitting among the lily pads – I took it in for a few moments before looking elsewhere. There’s just so much to see and experience, and take in. I was studying the vegetation to my left. There was another sora rail, hopping around, going about its day, finding breakfast. I enjoyed the opportunity and front row seating to watch this lovely bird. It appeared to be catching breakfast, most likely selecting from the mass of insects on the water’s surface. It would dip its beak down and pick something up than lift its head up, presumably eating, then dip its head back down again, turning around, constantly moving. Parts of the bird would sometimes be hidden by the vegetation as it danced about eating breakfast. I was mesmerized by its dance. It may have been eating seeds too. I observed it grab something with its beak. With the sun lighting the bird, I could see its eyes were chocolate brown and not black. I think Larry was watching the rail too.

There’s another one, ahead of you,” Larry said. I had a harder time seeing that one because of the wild rice plants between us. Larry suggested, “Stand up; you could probably get a better look at it.” Very slowly, being sure to balance myself, I stood up and took a look. I could indeed see it better – so beautiful, with its reflection mirrored in the water. Do they ever notice their reflection? Though the silence, or rather the peace almost felt palpable – a cooing, almost like a high pitched meowing kitten, sound filled the marsh around us. “Is that the rails making that noise?” I asked Larry.

“Yeah, it’s them,” he replied. I had sat back down at that point. The rail ahead of me was too hard to see so my attention returned to the rail on my left – bathed in the morning sunlight, it looked splendid. It too was reflected in the water. Still hopping about, turning this way and that way, studying the water. It actually looked like it was looking at its reflection. I looked back at the one ahead of me but it was even harder to see. Then my attention wandered to the wild rice plants ahead and towering to my right, just a handful of them. I took in their beauty noticing there were a few grains of rice left in the plant. I also noticed a thin strand of a spider’s web only visible when you look just so at it, shimmering in the sun, stretched between wild rice plants. My attention was again pulled back to the rail on my left. Its one foot stuck up out of the water – I couldn’t tell if it was resting on a curled up lily pad or only just looked that way. It had a large foot. I was so fascinated by this bird. It had turned around again. Its wings slightly raised as it dipped its beak down to the water’s surface. In a split second its wings were folded tightly against its back again, head up. Its long toes looked to be gripping the stalk of a bent wild rice plant. Head down and turned inward, now, as it preens the feathers along its side. Almost like getting an itch. Then its head is up, turned almost backwards, reaching its back to preen its back feathers too. Next its head is down, preening its chest feathers; ruffled neck feathers make it appear fuzzy. It pauses the grooming session, looks around. Then head back down, bent side ways to get the spot right under its wing again. (This all happened in just a minute but it seemed much longer, in a good way, as I was totally captivated by it.) Something must have caught the bird’s attention for it stopped preening suddenly. Head lifted high, looking behind it fully alert. It wasn’t too alarmed though, for it faced the other way again in a second.

Canoeing with Sora Rails

September 14, 2016

Around 8:00 am, Larry backed the truck up to the landing and we unloaded the canoe. Hank, the young black lab, jumped into the water for an early morning swim, having a great time. Larry scolded him multiple times and told him to get out of the water. It took several commands before Hank listened and came out. Larry moved the truck. Hank jumped back in the water, Larry scolded him again and told him to get out. Larry pulled the canoe forward in the long vegetation, sliding it into the water. Larry, bending over, maneuvered the canoe so it was parallel to the bank, bow pointing northward, “Bethany first.” Hank was about to get in or jump in the water ahead of me, so Larry repeated, “Bethany first.” I stepped into the canoe; it rocked back and forth a bit as I did so. Then Larry said, “Hank’s turn.” The overgrown puppy hopped into the canoe, rocking it a little. Then Larry got in. He had to command Hank to sit down several times before he listened.

It was a beautiful morning; not much of a breeze, partly sunny, cool – around fifty degrees, which actually felt colder than around thirty five degrees in May – the sunshine was warm but the air had a slight chill, striking a perfect balance. And there isn’t a better way to start off the day than a peaceful canoe trip with a dear friend. The birds were busy, singing and chattering as they went about their morning. We heard and saw a couple kingfishers fly by ahead of us. Near the bank a film of green duckweed coated the top of the water’s surface, but dispersed before the main channel, which was clear with amazing clarity. Wild rice and cattails grew along the bank – the wild rice towered above us. Larry observed, “The wild rice has senesced so quickly, the stems are turning brown already – and there’s some kernels.” We glided past the plants on to the “main” channel.  Larry said, “Ducks will start returning soon.” Not a moment later, “There’s a wood duck flying by.” I saw its dark silhouette as it flew off. The trees ahead on our left had senesced further in the past three weeks; they had been mostly green at the end of August with their tips just beginning to fade to pale green with a hint of yellow. Now they were all pale green or light fiery orange. It was amazing to watch it progress. Now even trees on the bluff were starting to senesce too. I still marveled at the reflections on the water’s surface particularly of the bluff and clouds.

The wild rice was tall on either side of us as the channel got smaller and smaller. Larry said he’d get some of the rice for me. He was amazed at how fast it had progressed – the plants were beginning to brown and there was hardly any rice left on the plants. As we went through a really narrow spot, hitting rice plants as we went by some rice fell into my lap. Plants tickled my chin, neck and cheeks as they slipped by my face. I didn’t mind – it helped me become a part of the marsh. Larry said, “There’s a rail.” I didn’t even catch a glimpse of it before the bird had totally disappeared. Every time Larry spotted a rail it would fly away before I could take a picture or even get a good look at them. Perhaps at some point I’ll see and photograph one.

We rounded a bend in the wild rice wall, red wing black birds were everywhere on the wild rice plants, males and females. They were eating the remaining rice and any rice worms. There were just so many black birds. Their wings whirred as they scattered when we drew near – loud in the otherwise peaceful morning. If we’d been any closer, we probably would have felt a breeze. The further in we went the more birds flew up until a large flock darkened the sky above us. Very likely hundreds of red wing black birds. Complaining loudly as they flew off – upset to have their breakfast disturbed. The number of black birds was incredible. I just loved the wall of wild rice on either side of us – it felt more magical and allowed us to easily become one with the marsh. It was also very beautiful. I think the height of wild rice plants will never cease to amaze me. Being on the water, immersed in the marsh refreshed my heart. I don’t know why the wild rice plants affected me so but they did.

We passed the clump of trees where we’d seen the muskrat a few months ago – there was no sign of the small furry creature this time. The channel widened considerably by the trees. Another noisy kingfisher flew by above us. A pair of ducks flew up out of the vegetation to our left. We continued along enjoying the morning and being on the water. Another duck flew away as we approached – funny, we didn’t even see them until they flew. The wild rice plants on either side began to hedge us in again, the channel getting smaller. Then it opened up again, we’d come to the large yellow water lily patch. Larry pushed us into the lily patch, we moved along slowly. It looked so different from just a few weeks ago – the lilies had senesced a lot. The leaves were brown and shriveled. Very few were still green and even those that were still green were less vibrant. The lily plants grew densely; there were only a few wild rice plants that grew here and there throughout the lily patch. The marsh, even just the large patch of lilies felt vast – some of the bordering bluffs seemed a great distance away. Tiny fly-like insects, possibly midges were thick just above the water’s surface – incredible numbers of them. A lot of the lily pads were folded and bent on stalks that stood above the water’s surface – they looked sad as they drooped like a dog hanging his head after being scolded. Some lily pads laid flat on top of the water’s surface. Some stuck out of the water at an angle, like a tongue sticking out. Being a tactile person, I reached out and touched one of the green pads sticking out of the water – such on interesting texture, smooth, waxy, which is an adaptation for living in the water, and it felt thicker than it looked. It looked like a frog actually; I could imagine they were large frogs. The pads had a center stripe, lighter in color running down its middle, with radiant lines, parallel to one another leaving the center line and going to the very edge of the leaf. The decaying leaves were fading from green to grayish, yellow edging, with brown spots along the edges and throughout the leaf. I was intrigued by the various patterns of the brown spots. Coon tail, which actually does look like a tail though perhaps a little more like a fox’s tail, grew thickly in an enlarged mass below the lilies. Were there fish or turtles hiding out in those forests beneath the water’s surface? I wish I could explore those secret and exclusive forests for a bit as a turtle sees it. What would I discover?

A New Venture: Photos for Sale

I am embarking on a new venture and I would like to share it with you, my readers! I have so many amazing photos and though some are shared here in my blog it is a shame for them to just sit on my computer for only me to enjoy, so I have decided to start selling my photos. Do you love my photos as much as you love my writing? You can now purchase them as various types of prints in several sizes to hang on you wall or you can get my photos on mugs, throw pillows, beach and bath towels, tote bags, phone cases, shower curtains and they’re also available as greeting cards. The prints and home decor items would also make fantastic gifts, perfect for Easter basket gifts, birthdays, mother’s day gifts! I would appreciate you checking them out at http://bethany-benike.pixels.com/If there are photos you have seen in my blogs that you are interested in purchasing but aren’t yet uploaded on the photo website please let me know and I’ll try to get them uploaded. For several years now, I have been wanting to start selling my photos but have for what ever reason held back. I finally took that step in February. I’m really excited to see how it pans out and wanted to give you the opportunity to share in this newest venture. Thank you so much for reading my stories!